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Department of Justice Releases Reports on Prison and Jail Deaths

by Matt Clarke

In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released two reports on deaths in state and federal prisons and local jails, covering more than a decade of mortality data ending in 2014.

As of yearend 2014 there were an estimated 1,433,800 prisoners held in the nation’s state and federal facilities. During that year, 3,483 state prisoners died while 444 died in federal prisons. The total of 3,927 deaths was up slightly from 3,879 in 2013, and represented the most prisoner deaths since the BJS began collecting data in 2001. There were a total of 50,785 deaths in state and federal prisons between 2001 and 2014, combined.

Males accounted for 96% of the deaths. However, in 2014 the number of female prisoners who died (154) increased by 9% over the previous year.

Illnesses accounted for around 87% of all state prisoners’ deaths in 2014, with cancer (30%) and heart disease (26%) accounting for more than half. The mortality rate for male state prisoners who died due to cancer, heart disease and liver disease was double that of female state prisoners.

The HIV-related morality rate was 17 per 100,000 prisoners for blacks, compared to 6 for whites and 7 for Hispanics. From 2013 to 2014, HIV-related deaths increased by 23% and deaths caused by respiratory disease rose by 20% among state prisoners, while deaths attributed to liver disease decreased by 13%.

From 2013 to 2014, the number of suicides among state prisoners climbed from 192 to 249, an increase of 30%. Suicides made up 7% of all state prisoner deaths in 2014, the largest percentage since 2001. Between 2001 and 2014, whites had a suicide mortality rate of 28 per 100,000 prisoners, compared to 8 for blacks and 16 for Hispanics.

Texas (409), Florida (346) and California (317) had the highest number of prisoner deaths in 2014. The mortality rate among state prisoners in 2014 ranged from 0 per 100,000 prisoners in North Dakota to 631 in Louisiana. The average rate for all states was 275 per 100,000.

Between 2001 and 2014, the state prisoner mortality rate exceeded that of federal prisoners by 14%. The mortality rate for white state prisoners (429 per 100,000) exceeded that of blacks (234) and Hispanics (141) in 2014.

According to a separate report, the average combined daily population in local jails was 750,128 in 2014. There were 1,053 deaths among jail prisoners that year. Illnesses accounted for 498 of the deaths, with heart disease (239), respiratory disease (41) and cancer (38) being the leading causes. Additionally, 392 prisoners committed suicide (37% of jail deaths), 90 died due to drug or alcohol intoxication (a 25% increase over 2013) and 25 were victims of homicide.

The overall mortality rate for jail prisoners was 140 per 100,000 prisoners in 2014. The rate for white prisoners was 245, compared to 108 for blacks and 71 for Hispanics. The rate for prisoners over 55 years old was 745 per 100,000, while it was 46 for those 18-24 years old, 89 for 25-34, 147 for 35-44 and 247 for 45-55. The HIV-related mortality rate for blacks (10 per 100,000) was thrice that of whites (3) or Hispanics (3) in jail populations.

The suicide rate for jail prisoners in 2014 was 45 per 100,000 prisoners, but the rate for whites was 95 compared to 19 for blacks and 23 for Hispanics. On average, a prisoner who committed suicide had been in jail for 9 days. About half (47%) of the suicides occurred in general population housing areas, while around 20% were in segregation or special housing units. Suicides among jail prisoners in 2014 were up 13% from 2013.

“Scholars explain the higher-than-expected suicide rates at local jails in various ways,” PLN contributing writer Christopher Zoukis stated in a February 15, 2017 Huffington Post article. “Some point to the ‘shock of confinement,’ the disruption from regular life and the added stresses and special challenges for an inexperienced inmate, noting suicides are more likely to occur among inmates being held for trial than among those serving time after a conviction. Others note jails are less likely to have intake methods and staff trained to identify mental health issues, while prisons are more likely to have better information on their inmates and greater resources and experience dealing with those issues.”

The BJS reports were part of the agency’s Deaths in Custody Reporting Program. 

Sources: BJS report numbers NCJ 250150 and NCJ 250169,,, Huffington Post


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